Bahá'í Library Online
. . . .
>>   Published Articles
TAGS: 19th century; Islam; Muhammad Abduh; Reform; Secret of Divine Civilization (book)
LOCATIONS: Iran (documents); Middle East; Turkey
add tags
Bahá'í influences on the Middle Eastern reform movement in the 1860s and 1870s.
Mirrored with permission from

Bahá'í Influence on the Reform Movements of the Islamic World in the 1860s and 1870s

by Moojan Momen

published in Bahá'í Studies Bulletin, 2:2, pages 47-65
It was in the middle of the Nineteenth Century that the Islamic world began to react to the realisation of the extent to which it had fallen behind Christian Europe in the fields of science, industry, trade and armaments. This reaction took two inter-related forms: firstly, the attempts by statesmen such as Ali Pasha, Fu'ad Pasha and Midhat Pasha in Turkey and Mushiru'd-Dawla in Iran to introduce a certain degree of reform, and secondly, the attempts by writers such as Namik Kemal, Sayyid Jamalu'd-Din Afghani, Mirza Malkam Khan and Mirza Fath-`Ali Akhundzada to formulate a way in which the Islamic world could come to terms with the dominance of Europe.

The decades of the 1860s and 1870s were a particularly fecund period in both of these fields. In Turkey, there were the Tanzimat ordinances and Midhat Pasha's reforms during this period and the publication of Namik Kemal's Vatan yahut Silistre (Fatherland or Silistria) in 1873. In Iran, after Mirza Taqi Khan's attempt to modernize Iran in 1848-51, there were the reforms of Mushiru'd-Dawla in 1871-1873 while Mirza Malkam Khan 's Kitabcha-yi Ghaybi (written in about 1860) was the first of many such treatises by this and other writers aimed at advising the Shah on modernizing Iran. In Egypt, in the 1870s, Sayyid Jamalu'd-Din Afghani had gathered around him a group of disciples that included eminent future reformers such as Muhammad `Abduh and Sa`d Zaghlul and this group were already producing influential newspapers such as Misr and at-Tijara. There were also Khayru'd-Din Pasha's reforms in Tunisia.

The theoreticians varied greatly in their approach to the problem of reforming the Muslim world. Some such as Akhundzada (1812-1878) advocated the wholesale overthrow of Islam because it was a bar to progress. But Akhundzada was writing from the comparative safety of the Russian city of Tiflis where such views could be openly expressed without incurring serious danger. Others like Mirza Malkam Khan and Sayyid Jamalu'd-Din who wrote from within Islamic states had to be more circumspect. Malkam Khan (1833-1908) whose main line of approach was the wholesale importation of European ideas and technology was careful to avoid a confrontation with the religious authorities by maintaining that his ideas were compatible with Islam. With Sayyid Jamalu'd-Din (1838-1897) also, it is very difficult to discern his true opinion of Islam since he was aware of its powerful appeal and its potential usefulness in achieving his ultimate goal of strengthening the Islamic world against Western encroachment.[1]

In this great ferment of political thought, there was much cross-fertilization of ideas and the details of the contacts between the various reformers are only now in the process of being worked out. One element in this cauldron of ideas in the 1860s and 1870s that has hitherto been ignored by Western scholars is the contribution to this debate made by the Bahá'ís (as distinct from the Azali Babis [2]), and in particular, by the Bahá'í leaders who were in Edirne and, after 1868, in `Akka, This paper is an attempt to demonstrate that the Bahá'í leaders could have had a significant impact on this debate as well as indicating, through an analysis of the Risala-yi Madaniyyat of `Abdu'l-Bahá (1844-1921) what were the main points that were being advanced from this direction.

It is very difficult to obtain firm evidence of the influence of the Bahá'ís on Nineteenth-Century Iran mainly because of the fact that those so influenced would never admit to this since any degree of association with what was regarded as a heretical and religiously-obnoxious sect would be a bar to one's advancement in public life or the acceptance of one's views. Therefore we can expect the reformers to have been careful to conceal their contacts with the Bahá'ís. And so it was that when `Abdu'l-Bahá's Risala-yi Madaniyyat (Secret of Divine Civilisation) was written in 1875, it was distributed anonymously and is said to have achieved a wide readership among the Iranian intelligentsia, particularly after its printing in 1882. But later when its authorship became known, no one would admit to having read it.

But there is much evidence for contacts between the Bahá'í leaders and many of the prominent Nineteenth-Century reformers of the Islamic world. It is, of course, very difficult to determine to what extent such contacts exerted an influence on these reformers but the absence of substantial references to the Bahá'ís in the works of these reformers should not, for the reasons stated above, be taken as evidence of no significant impression having been made. It was difficult enough for these reformers to make any headway with their ideas in the Islamic world without the additional encumbrance of being considered to be tainted by heretical views.

It has been suggested that Sayyid Jamalu'd-Din Afghani was in contact with the Babi exiles in Baghdad in the 1850s.[3] Certainly he was very familiar with the movement and provided the information on this subject that went into Butrus al-Bustani's Arabic Encyclopaedia.[4] He appears to have wanted to remain in contact with the Bahá'í leaders in `Akka since he sent them copies of his newspaper, Urwatu'l-Waqtha, from Paris in the 1880s.[5] It would appear from Afghani's writings that he felt a great deal of antipathy for the Bahá'ís[6] whom he saw as potentially breaking up the unity of the Islamic world therefore his continued contacts may well have been because he found the ideas emanating from this source useful to him in formulating his own views.

The evidence for Mirza Malkam Khan's close association with the Bahá'ís is much stronger. Malkam Khan was exiled from Iran to Baghdad in 1861 and came into contact with Bahá'u'lláh there [7] before his further exile in April 1862 to Istanbu1 where he again had the opportunity of contacting Bahá'u'lláh and his followers when they were exiled there in May 1863. Both at this time and earlier in Tihran, Malkam Khan had had such close contact with the Babis that when Ernest Renan met him in Istanbul in June 1865, Malkam Khan represented himself as being knowledgeable about Babis to such an extent that we find Renan in 1866 encouraging Malkam Khan to write on the subject. [8]

The third prominent Iranian reformer of this period that we will briefly consider here is Mirza Husayn Khan Mushiru'd-Dawla(1827-81). As the Iranian Minister at the Sublime Porte, he had been instrumental in bringing about the various stages of Bahá'u'lláh's exile from Baghdad to Istanbul, to Edirne and finally to `Akka and he had used all his influence to restrict the activities of the Bahá'ís. But, it is reported that, in 1870, after reading the petitions addressed to Bahá'u'lláh that had been taken when Shaykh Salman was arrested in Aleppo, he altered his attitude and, from that time on, he is reported to have been sympathetic.[9] Certainly there were no persecutions of the Bahá'ís during the time he was Prime Minister. One of his close relatives, Mirza Muhammad `Ali, Kad-khuda of Qazvin was a Bahá'í [10] and this may have been one way ln which information about the Bahá'ís reached Mushiru'd-Dawla but probably more important was his close association with Malkam Khan both in Istanbul and Tihran.

Outside Iran, several other prominent Muslim reformers had links with the Bahá'ís in `Akka. Midhat Pasha (1822-83), while Governor of Syria invited `Abdu'l-Bahá to Beirut in 1879. On a subsequent visit to that city, `Abdu'l-Bahá became closely acquainted with Shaykh Muhammad `Abduh (1849-1905) who in later years was to become a leading figure in Egypt. In his memoir of his conversations with Muhammad `Abduh, Rashid Rida has documented `Abduh's very high regard for `Abdu'l-Bahá and the Bahá'ís (the memoir is dated 1897 when Rashid Rida first came to Egypt to study under `Abduh):`Abduh:

This sect [the Bahá'ís] is the only one that strives so that sciences and arts might be acquired by the Muslims. There are learned and wise men among its adherents . . . [11]

Rida [about `Abbas Effendi, `Abdu'l-Bahá]: I hear that he excels in religious and political science (as-siyasa), and that he is wise enough to satisfy all who seek his company . . .

`Abduh: Yes, `Abbas Effendi transcends all that. He is, in fact a great man; he is the man to whom it is right to apply that epithet. [12]

Safvet Pasha, the Ottoman minister of education, during this period, who advocated a Westernisation of Turkish education, was in communication with `Abdu'l-Bahá. [13] Having demonstrated that the Bahá'í leaders in Edirne and later in `Akka in the 1860s and 1870s had extensive contacts with the most prominent reformers in the Muslin world during this period and were part of the reform debate that was going on, it now remains to consider in what directions, the Bahá'í leaders influenced the reformers. Unfortunately, the direct evidence for this, letters written by Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá to these reformers, do not appear to have survived, but we have one very valuable piece of information as to what were the political opinions of the Bahá'í leaders at this time, the treatise known as Risala-yi Madaniyyat [14] by `Abdu'l-Bahá which written on the express instructions of Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892).[15] The evidence for the date of its composition, 1875, is contained in the text itself.[16] The book was first published anonymously for the reasons discussed above. The importance of this book in the eyes of the Bahá'ís can be judged from the fact that it was only the second Bahá'í book to be printed.[17]

`Abdu'l-Bahá states at the beginning of the book that its composition had been inspired by the reforms recently initiated by the Shah. This is presumably a reference to the reforms undertaken by Mushiru'd-Dawla during his ministry, 1871-73. This ministry began with confident expectations from the reformers that it would signal new era for Iran, a return to former glories through modernization.[18] The courts were reformed, individual rights guaranteed, a consultative council set up, finances and the army reformed and steps taken against bribery and corruption.[19] `Abdu'l-Bahá praises these reforms and states that his treatise has been written in order to set down "a brief statement on certain urgent questions."[20] He states that he is withholding his name as author because he dose not wish to curry favour or gain material benefit from the suggestions that he is putting forward.

`Abdu'l-Bahá starts his line of argument by referring to Iran's former glories. Now, he states, Nasiru'd-Din Shah has taken the initiative and is exerting an effort towards progress and justice "hoping that his reign will rival the glorious past." [21]

The specific reforms listed by `Abdu'l-Bahá in this treatise are as follows:

1) Extension of education throughout the country.

2) Systematisation of court procedure and in particular a definite limit to the appeal procedure for litigation.

3) Development of useful arts and sciences.

4) Promotion of industry and technology,

5) Extension of foreign relations and expansion of trade.

6) Guaranteeing of individual rights such as security of property and equality before the law.

7) Restriction of the absolute authority of provincial governors and review of their sentences by the Shah and higher courts in the capital.

8) Elimination of bribery and corruption.

9) Reform of the Army with proper provisions, armaments and training.

10) The setting up of councils and assemblies of consultation.

Many of these reforms had been suggested in the writings of other writers previously nor indeed does `Abdu'l-Bahá give much importance to the list itself. He merely sets them out without elaborating on any of the measures, although he does state his intention, should there be interest, of producing a further treatise in elucidation of this one. What `Abdu'l-Bahá gives over most of the book to, and what indeed Mushiru'd-Dawla and his supporters found by bitter experience to be the critical problem, is the question of how to bring about the social conditions in which these reforms will be accepted and can effectively be applied. For the whole lesson of Mushiru'd-Dawla's two-and-a-half year ministry was that it is easy to propose far-reaching reforms and to promulgate decrees but quite another matter to put these into effect and produce a change in society.[22] Thus, for example, after stating that the setting up of councils and assemblies of consultation is the "very foundation and bedrock of government"[23] and is the way "to bring about Justice and righteousness,[24] `Abdu'l-Bahá goes on to say, however, that if the members of these assemblies be not "righteous, God-fearing, high-minded, incorruptible,"[25] then the whole exercise will have negative results and be meaningless. `Abdu'l-Bahá is one of the earliest of the reform writers to advocate elected representatives on these assemblies for the very practical reason that "elected representatives will on this account be somewhat inclined to exercise justice, lest their reputation suffer and they fall into disfavour with the public."[26]

`Abdu'l-Bahá's major thesis in this book, however, is that reform and progress can only be brought about if the individual members of a society are motivated towards justice and high-mindedness. Religion, he states, is the most powerful instrument for bringing about such a change among human beings for it provides the motivation for individuals to disregard their own advantage in the cause of justice and the public interest.[27] Furthermore, progress and civilisation are dependent on unity and agreement between the individual members of society and religion is also the best means of achieving this.[28] The example of the Israelites is cited and how each time they turn towards religion they would become prosperous and reach the heights of civilisation and when they turned away from religion, they would suffer dissension, decline and defeat.[29] And when the Christian world reached its nadir in the Middle Ages, it was through Islam that culture and the sciences were revived and through the Crusades and the medium of Andalusia that this learning was transmitted to Europe thus bringing about the Renaissance.[30] `Abdu'l-Bahá refutes Voltaire's assertion that religious faith defeats progress as being the result of looking to the acts of the Popes and other religious leaders rather than at the "true significance of the sacred Scriptures."[31] `Abdu'l-Bahá regards the revival of the religious instinct in man as the very core and foundation of progress and reform, the "very basis and root-principle of culture and civilization."[32]

Next to the central role of religious faith, `Abdu'l-Bahá appears to consider education as being the most important matter for concern.[33] Lack of education impedes justice in society[34] and prevents the realization of reforms. Attention needs to be given to the curriculum since at present too much time is taken up with the study of useless subjects.[35] Schools must be established in the towns and even in the villages and children taught to read and write. Education should be compulsory if necessary for it is through education that the nation can be roused from its torpor. With these two instruments, religious faith and education, in the hands of the people, then the nation has the ability to raise itself toward reform, progress and the establishment of a just society.

Unlike many of the reformers of the Middle East, `Abdu'l-Bahá does not advocate wholesale importation of European ideas and values and he does not hold up Europe as an example to be emulated in all respects. While allowing that European science and social administration have certain lessons for the Islamic world, he condemns European society as being essentially a superficial culture which is morally bankrupt. `Abdu'l-Bahá considers true human happiness to derive from a drawing nearer to God and securing the peace and well-being of every individual member of society. The European powers, while paying lip-service to peace, are, in fact, engaged in piling up weapons and perpetrating pointless wars such as the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 which caused great bloodshed and destruction with no discernible cause or result.[36] `Abdu'l-Bahá considers European civilization morally uncivilised."[37] True civilization will only arrive when the rulers come together to consult with a genuine desire for peace; they should forgo their ambitions for territorial expansion, limit their armaments and resolve that if any state violated the territory of another then they would all arise to subdue that state.[38]

Rather than denigrate the ulama as being an impedance to progress, `Abdu'l-Bahá takes up a large part of this treatise with enumerating the positive qualities to which the men of learning should aspire. This, of course, follows from his contention that all these councils and consultative assemblies can only function well and lead to benefit and progress if their members are high-minded and incorruptible. These qualities are listed as follows:

1) That they should acquire spiritual and material perfections: obtaining religious, scientific and cultural knowledge, justice and impartiality; sincerely trying to counsel and educate the masses; mildness, compassion, resolution, courage, etc.[39]

2) That they should be defenders of the Faith: not merely in terms of the strict application of religious law or the observance of forms of worship but in terms of promoting the Word of God and increasing the number of believers. This objective is not achieved by violent means. The example of spiritual qualities will attract and inspire human hearts while the sword "will only produce a man who is outwardly a believer, and inwardly a traitor and apostate."[40] Fanaticism and avoidance of unbelievers is also to be condemned since this repulses the unbeliever and prevents his conversion. Unfortunately, among the people, fanaticism and bigotry have become mistaken for marks of religious virtue.[41]

3) That they should oppose their passions: for it is from this basis that human beings are enabled to be just, to be of benefit to others and to become a means for the progress of the whole of society.[42]

4) That they must be obedient to the laws of God: `Abdu'l-Bahá rejects the view that human beings have an innate sense of dignity which can prevent them from committing evil since he regards even this sense of dignity as being derived from the education provided by the Prophet of God which is the real source of true civilization.[43]

One of the most important tasks of the reformers was to neutralize the opposition of those who maintained that these reforms were foreign methods unsuitable for Iran or were contrary to the teachings of Islam so that adopting them was tantamount to abandoning Islam. Such arguments by stirring up the people's natural fear of change, were often very powerful in the hands of those who opposed reform.

To those who considered that reforms learned from infidel foreigners would contravene Islam, `Abdu'l-Bahá answered with arguments both from the Islamic texts and from Islamic history. From the hadith, `Abdu'l-Bahá cited: "Seek knowledge even unto China."[44] With specific reference to the idea of consultative assemblies, he quotes the Qur'anic phrases: "and whose affairs are guided by mutual counsel"[45] and "consult then in the affair."[46] as justification for this measure. From Islamic history, `Abdu'l-Bahá quotes the example of the Battle of the Trench where Muhammad did not refuse to utilize the military tactic of digging a trench which was borrowed from the Persians through Salman. Moreover, `Abdu'l-Bahá points out that many of the Laws of Islam itself, such as the Pilgrimage to Mecca, the ceremonies of the pilgrimage, the months of religious truce, etc. were derived from the customs of the idolatrous pre-Islamic Arabs while the greatest of the Muslim theologians and philosophers did not hesitate to borrow ideas from the Greeks, And so, if, as the evidence of the Islamic traditions and histories show, it was permissible to borrow ideas from the idolatrous Chinese and Magians and from Greek infidels, how much more permissible it is to borrow ideas from Christian Europe; for Christians are at least People of the Book and it is even in the Qur'an that: "Thou shalt certainly find those to be nearest in affection to the believers who say 'we are Christians.'"[47]

To those who maintained that foreign ways are unsuitable for Iranians and that it would be more appropriate for Iran to evolve its own techniques, `Abdu'l-Bahá replied that all knowledge, whether in the scientific or the socia1 field is the common legacy of all humanity. One should no more ignore the social advances made by another nation than one should refuse to obtain the benefits of foreign scientific advances such as steam-power and the telegraph. If it has taken another nation a thousand years to evolve certain advances, what benefit is there in keeping back the people of Iran for one thousand years before they make the same advances. [48]

And as for those who advise caution and the need to advance slowly and patiently, if they are genuine, then it is certainly true that these reforms must be introduced in an orderly manner so that society evolves step by step and is not thrown into chaos. But if their statements are merely an excuse for laziness and inertia then this is inexcusable and unacceptable. A start has to be made and the matter pursued. In Iran, the greatest need is for education and this matter must be pursued vigorously and systematically.[49]

These then, in summary, are the main themes that `Abdu'l-Bahá pursues in this treatise. We have already discussed the way in which these ideas may have had an influence on the growing body of reformers in the Middle East in the 1860s and 1870s. It is also pertinent to ask to what extent the works of these reformers may have had an influence on `Abdu'l-Bahá's writing of this treatise and to what extent the ideas contained in the treatise are original to `Abdu'l-Bahá. Certainly the structure of the treatise resembles in many ways the writings of other reformers many of which predated this treatise. There is the same broad appeal to Muslims to shake themselves from their lethargy and face the challenge of the modern world, the reference back to Iran's former glories,[50] the almost obligatory attempt to make the reforms out to be compatible with the highest ideals of Islam,[51] and the reference to certain European writers who have spoken favorably of Islam.[52] `Abdu'l-Bahá was not the first to present reforms anonymously[53] (nor was this to be the only occasion on which `Abdu'l-Bahá used this devicc[54]) but `Abdu'l-Bahá's motive in withholding his name is only in order to allow the book to be circulated and read which it would not have been if its Bahá'í authorship had been known. The list of reforms that `Abdu'l-Bahá presents in this treatise is not in itself original nor very thorough. Mirza Malkam Khan 's Kitabcha-yi Ghaybi (c. 1860) presents much more detailed proposals.[55]

But `Abdu'l-Bahá's emphasis on education as the first priority in the reform measures and his concern with the codification of the legal procedure (and particularly civil litigation) seem, however, in the priority given to them, to be original contributions of `Abdu'l-Bahá.[56] Moreover, at a time when most of the Iranian reformers, such as Malkam Khan still envisaged that consultative assemblies and ministerial councils should be appointed by the Shah and proposed that the Shah model himself on the absolutism of Russia, Prussia or Austria,[57] `Abdu'l-Bahá is already putting forward the idea of elected representatives, thus predating (and possibly influencing) the first Iranian reformers to suggest this by over a decade.[58]

As we have demonstrated, however, `Abdu'l-Bahá's concern is not so much with the reform measures themselves as with the way to transform society order to bring these changes into effect. In this respect, `Abdu'l-Bahá was probably more realistic than most of the other reformers in discerning that even if one of the Islamic rulers was to try to put these reforms into effect (as was attempted during Mushiru'd-Dawla's ministry in Iran, by Khayru'd-Din Pasha in Tunisia and Midhat Pasha in Turkey), Muslim society was not yet in a state that would be able to absorb them and so they would be rejected. What was needed first was a revolution in attitudes and morality. `Abdu'l-Bahá is virtually unique among the writers on reform in this period in advocating so central a role to religion. Even those writers, such as Malkam Khan and Afghani, who allocated some role to religion in their writings were more interested in utilising the religious fervour of the masses as a means of introducing reforms. But their private opinion was almost certainly very sceptical of religion if not atheistic and regarded Islam as a bar to progress.[59] Indeed, ironically, it may be argued that in giving such a central importance to religious renewal as a precondition to reform and progress, `Abdu'l-Bahá was being more genuinely an Islamic reformer than many of the other prominent figures of the reform movement who used Islam cynically (and only because they could see no alternative means of getting reforms adopted) and should therefore more accurately be described as Middle East reformers.

By giving lengthy examples from history of the manner in which a new religious impulse (such as Jesus's message or Muhammad's mission) was able to regenerate and ennoble decadent and stagnant civilisations.[60] `Abdu'l-Bahá's unexpressed conclusion is that only a fresh religious impulse (which for `Abdu'l-Bahá is, of course, the religion founded by his father) can revivify the Islamic world.


1) With respect to their real opinions of Islam; for Malkam Khan, see Hamid Algar, Mirza Malkum Khan, Berkeley, 1973, pp. 9-15, 89-90; Shaul Bakhash, Iran: Monarchy, Bureaucracy and Reform under the Qajars: 1858-1896, London, pp. 15-16; Mangol Bayat, Mysticism and Dissent; Socioreligious Thought in Qajar Iran, Syracuse, New York, 1982, pp. 149-152. For Afghani, see Nikki Keddie, Sayyid Jamal al-Din "al-Afghani", Berkeley, 1972, pp. 2, 16-17, 91; Elie Kedourie, Afghani and `Abduh, London, 1966, pp. 14-20; Bayat, Mysticism, pp. 143-8.

2) The Azali contribution to the reform movement has received some attention; see Mangol Bayat, "Mirza Aqa Khan: A Nineteenth Century Persian Nationalist" Middle Eastern Studies Vol. 10 (1974), pp. 36-59 and idem, Mysticism, pp. 140-142, 157-161.

3) Keddie, Afghani, pp. 20-22.

4) Da'irat al-Ma`arif, Beirut, 1881, Vol. 5, "Babis"; see also Keddie, Afghani, p. 20n.

5) See Bahá'u'lláh's reference to this in Lawh-i Dunya, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh - revealed after the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Haifa, 1978, p. 35.

6) This is confirmed by Bahá'u'lláh in Lawh-i Dunya, see previous note. There is come evidence of Afghani having been influenced by Bahá'í teachings in the fact that he is said to have considered Islam, Judaism and Christianity to be in perfect agreement, see Kedourie, Afghani, p. 15.

7) Hasan M. Balyuzi, Bahá'u'lláh. King of Glory, Oxford, 1980, pp. 151-153.

8) Ernest Renan, Oeuvres Completes (ed. H. Paichari), Paris, n.d., Vol. 10, p. 453.

9) See Haji Mirza Haydar `Ali quoted in Balyuzi, Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 441-444.

10) Shaykh Kazim Samandar, Tarikh-i Samandar, Tihran, 131 badi`, p. 268-70.

11) At this point they converse about Mirza Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani, a prominent Bahá'í then resident in Egypt.

12) Muhammad Rashid Rida, Ta'rikh al-Ustadh al-Imam ash-Shaykh Muhammad `Abduh, Cairo, 1931, Vol. 1, pp. 930-931. Translation by Juan R. Cole with minor alterations by myself. It is of interest to note that `Abduh, while in Beirut, is credited with having favoured a union of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. The essential unity of all religions being a major Bahá'í principle, this may be a further evidence of `Abdu'l-Bahá's influence on `Abduh.

13) `Abdu'l-Bahá wrote a Commentary on the Hadith qudsi, Kuntu kanzan makhfiyan (I was a Hidden Treasure) for Safvet Pasha.

14) References in this paper are to a second edition printed in Bombay, 1892, with the title: Kitab-i Asrar-i Ghaybiyya li Asbab a1-Madaniyya . Translated into English firstly by Johanna Dawud with the title The Mysterious Forces of Civilisation, London, 1910 and later by Marzieh Gail with the title Secret of Divine Civilisation, Wilmette, Ill., 1957. References hereinafter are cited as SDC followed by page number of the 1892 text and then Marzieh Gail's translation.

15) Muhammad `Ali Faydi (Hayat-i Hadrat-i `Abdu'l-Bahá, Tihran, 128 Badi`/ 1971, p.42) quotes a statement written by Mirza Aqa Jan Khadimu'llah on behalf of Bahá'u'lláh to this effect.

16) SDC pp, 81/62

17) In 1882 in Bombay. The first book printed was the Kitab-i Iqan

18) See comments by Mustasharu'd-Dawla, Akhundzada and Malkan Khan 's father in Bakhash, Iran, p.81.

19) For details of these reforms, see Bakhash, Iran, pp. 83-101.

20) SDC p. 8/6.

21) SDC p. 15/11.

22) See, for example, Mustasharu'd-Dawla's disillusioned words in Bakhash, Iran, pp. 90-91.

23) SDC p. 25/17. The two words that have been translated by Marzieh Gail as "parliaments" and "assemblies of consultation" and by myself as "councils" and "assemblies of consultation" are "majalis" and "mahafil-i mashvarat". The correct translation of these terms in the contemporary setting is somewhat problematical. Between 1859 and 1872, Nasiru'd-Din Shah set up a number of councils with names such as Majlis-i Shawra-yi Dawlati (Government Consultative Council) and the Majlis-i Darbar-i A`zam (Supreme Court Council). For details see Bakhash, Iran, see under "Majlis" in index. In his book, Kitabcha-yi Ghaybi (Majmu`a-yi Athar-i Mirza Malkam Khan,Tihran, 1327/1948, pp. 24-25), Mirza Malkam Khan envisages the setting up of a legislative Majlis-i Tanzimat (Council for Ordinances) and an executive Majlis-i Vuzara. In all these contemporary uses of the word majlis there is no implication of an elective element (as distinct from later when this term became used for Iran's elected parliament). Therefore it in perhaps inadvisable to use the term parliament to translate the word majlis at this time. Nevertheless, as will be mentioned shortly, `Abdu'l-Bahá clearly envisages the introduction of an elected membership onto these bodies.

24) SDC p. 33/23.

25) SDC p. 25/17.

26) SDC p. 34/24

27) SDC pp. 127-8/96-7.

28) SDC p. 97/73.

29) SDC pp. 102-107/77-81.

30) SDC pp. 114-121/86-91, 122-125/92-94.

31) SDC pp. 96/72-3, 98/75.

32) SDC p. 98/75.

33) SDC p. 144/109. "The primary, the most urgent requirement is the promotion of education."

34) SDC pp. 26-7/18.

35) SDC pp. 139-140/105-6.

36) SDC pp. 79-84/60-63.

37) SDC p. 83/63.

38) SDC pp. 84-6/64-5.

39) SDC pp. 46-54/34-40.

40) SDC p. 62/46.

41) SDC pp. 54-77/41-59.

42) SDC pp. 77-8/59

43) SDC pp. 94-7/71-3, 128-9/97-8.

44) SDC p. 36/26.

45) SDC p. 132/100; Qur'an 42:36.

46) SDC p. 132/100; Qur'an 3:153.

47) SDC pp. 25-31/36/42; Qur'an 5:85.

48) SDC pp. 149-153/112-115.

49) SDC pp. 142-5/107-110.

50) Cf. Akhundzada who in his writings (see Maktubat-i Kamalu'd-Dawla, 1860) also frequently refers to Iran's past glories. But whereas Akhundzada's purpose in refering to this theme is to attribute Iran 's present degradation to the evils of Islam. `Abdu'l-Bahá merely appears to use this as a means of encouraging and exhorting Iranians, to greater efforts towards progress and as evidence that Iran is not inherently incapable of greatness.

51) Cf. the writings Of Mirza Yusif Khan Mustasharu'd-Dawla (Yik Kalama, 1870) and of Khayru'd-Din Pasha, (Aqwam al-Masalik fi ma`rifat Ahwal al-Mamalik, Tunis 1284/1867, pp. 82-4)

52) cf. Khayru'd-Din Pasha, see Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, Oxford, 1962, p. 89.

53) Mirza Malkam Khan withheld his name from his Kitabcha-yi Ghaybi. Algar postulates that "possibly the device was intended to impress Nasir ad-Din Shah with the disinterested nature of his proposal" which Algar describes as a "typical display of charlatanry"; Algar, Malkum Khan, p. 27.

54) `Abdu'l-Bahá's Maqala-yi Sayyah (A Traveller's Narrative) was also published anonymously.

55) Malkam Khan, Majmu`a-yi Athar, pp. 24-503 ; although as mentioned previously `Abdu'l-Bahá does mention his intention of elaborating on this work in a further treatise and did indeed produce a further work, Risala-yi Siyasiyya (Treatise on Politics) in 1893.

56) Of the reformers of this period, perhaps only Tahtawi, writing at about the same time, gives education anything like the importance that `Abdu'l-Bahá does; see Tahtawi, Al-Murshid al-Amin li'l-Banat wa'l-Banin, Cairo, 1289/1872. Khayru'd-Din Pasha in Tunisia did try to establish a codification of the Islamic law at about this time but was unable to do so; see Hourani, Arabic Thought, p. 93.

57) Malkam Khan, Kitabcha-yi Ghaybi in Majmu`a-yi Athar, pp. 15-16. See also Bayat, Mysticism, p. 163.

58) `Abdu'l-Bahá was himself almost certainly influenced by Bahá'u'lláh's own clearly-expressed preference for democracy; see Tablet to Queen Victoria (dated circa 1868) in The Bahá'í Revelation, London, 1955, p. 10.

59) See note 1.

60) `Abdu'l-Bahá's conception of religion as the generating impulse of civilization is clearly inspired by Bahá'u'lláh's writings; see in particular the Kitab-i Iqan (Langenhain, Germany, 1980; translated by Shoghi Effendi, London, 1940).

Back to:   Published Articles
Home Site Map Links Copyright About Contact
. .